Forget policy, watch the weather

Four alternative factors that could decide the election.

Over the next few weeks activists, politicians and commentators will argue and fight over campaign strategies to bring down their ideological opponents. Campaigns will issue press releases at a furious rate and triumphantly claim that they are going to "expose" their opponents on particular issues.

And it won't make much difference at all. Elections are rarely about policies; they are always more about politicians who can capture "the mood" of the electorate. David Cameron thought he had it in the bag until Nick Clegg became the "change candidate". Now it's all shot to hell.

The election is generating so much noise that arguments over policy aren't going to shift anything. People will just tune out. Here are some alternative factors that could influence polls by about 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

The one issue

Want to take out your opponent? Drop the range of topics and fixate on one issue. Keep on hammering at it so the message gets through and raises doubts in the minds of people likely to vote for them.

The noise level makes it impossible for a campaign with mixed and numerous messages to get something across. Ideally that one issue should be about policy, but subconsciously frames your opponent in an emotional way. Attacking the Tories on inheritance tax, for example, also frames them as a party only for the rich. The Tories still have problems convincing voters that they're not just for the privileged.

Brown has stuck stubbornly to talking about the economy, while Clegg will stick to talking about "a new politics". Cameron has the problem of mixed messages: "big society" doesn't resonate; he needs to attack Clegg but can't afford to sound too negative; Osborne isn't helping much.

The turnout

This will affect each party differently, and may even depend on the weather. A low turnout is bad for Labour because it mostly features the committed/angry voters who want to get rid of the incumbent.

Besides, poorer people are less likely to turn out to vote. So, good weather with a close, competitive election could ensure a high turnout -- which would be in Labour's favour. Pollsters agree.

What also matters is where the turnout happens. Both Labour and the Tories have constituencies that are so sewn up that a high turnout there would count for little. They all need a higher turnout in the marginals. However, if it becomes a very close election, then the popular vote may also become psychologically important.

The youth vote

This needs a separate category, for several reasons. The "yoof vote" is the main driver behind Clegg's recent resurgence and this bodes well for the future of the party. Young people are also better as activists.

Here's the problem for Clegg: the polls may be overstating and/or understating his popularity. Understating it, because many young people today live in mobile-only households (now 13 per cent of UK households) and are therefore not reached by conventional, phone-based pollsters. So support for the Lib Dem leader may be higher than imagined.

But Clegg's influence may be overstated if those youths don't go out and vote, as they are not prone to do.


Which brings me to probably the biggest factor: Get-Out-The-Vote operations will probably affect final counts more than arguments over policy.

A huge part of the Obama campaign was about collecting, harvesting and refining voter data so that on election day the Democrats could locate where his supporters were, knock on their door and harangue them to go out and vote. Everything boiled down to the huge GOTV operation.

In the UK, parties can't pay to drive the old and the lazy to the polls, so the problem is bigger. But the parties do have electoral register information to locate friendly areas. The big parties have also spent large sums developing sophisticated databases to collate and track voter information. If they don't use this properly for a GOTV drive on election day, all that discussion about policy will have been for nothing.

Sunny Hundal is editor of Liberal Conspiracy.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of Liberal Conspiracy.

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times